Up & Run­ning

THE SPRING MUL­LET RUN ON FLORIDA’S AT­LANTIC COAST KICKS THE SEA­SON INTO OVER­DRIVE.

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Features - By Steve Wa­ters

AMul­let went air­borne and the wa­ter ex­ploded as a school of jacks at­tacked the bait­fish. I yelled at my friend to grab one of the spin­ning rods and throw a lure — any lure — into the feed­ing frenzy.

Sec­onds later, a hole opened in the sur­face as a 20-pound jack smashed the swim­ming plug. Twenty min­utes later, af­ter the fish had taken us across the river and back, my friend, breath­ing heav­ily, re­leased the jack not far from where he’d hooked it.

En­coun­ters like th­ese, when sil­ver mul­let are mi­grat­ing north, are the surest sign that spring has ar­rived in South Florida.

Not as ex­ten­sive as the fall mul­let run, when acres of sil­ver, black and fin­ger mul­let swim south off Florida’s beaches and in its rivers and bays, the spring mul­let run is nev­er­the­less a cher­ished oc­cur­rence for fish­er­men pur­su­ing every­thing from tar­pon and snook to sail­fish and dol­phin.

KICK­OFF

Capt. Glyn Austin uses live fin­ger mul­let as well as top­wa­ter lures and jerk­baits in the In­dian River from Grant to Vero Beach dur­ing the spring mul­let run.

“Typ­i­cally, de­pend­ing on the cold fronts, that mul­let run starts in late March into April,” Austin says. “What they do is move in and get into pretty much all the lit­tle coves and the flats around Se­bas­tian In­let, sev­eral miles north and south, and they get in along the man­groves.

“It’s a good time to fish top­wa­ters. We’ve still got cooler wa­ter tem­per­a­tures. It’ll warm up a lit­tle bit, but it doesn’t get as hot as it does dur­ing the fall mul­let run, so we use top­wa­ters all day.”

Austin fishes his usual spots in the river, such as man­grove shore­lines and spoil is­lands that were cre­ated when chan­nels were dredged, in­stead of search­ing for mul­let schools.

If the mul­let are there, great. If not,

he’ll move to the next spot. His fa­vorites in­clude Black Point, south of Se­bas­tian; Camp­bell’s Pocket, which is close to Se­bas­tian In­let; and Co­conut Point and Mathers Cove, which are north of the in­let.

“All those ar­eas are go­ing to hold mul­let dur­ing the spring run,” Austin says, “and they’ll have nice trout, some red­fish, blue­fish, jacks and snook.

“I fish man­grove shore­lines that are hold­ing the bait, and I fish in the trees with ar­ti­fi­cials as much as I can. Typ­i­cally, the snook and reds are tight to trees. Jacks, blue­fish and trout are un­der the schools.”

Austin’s fa­vorite top­wa­ter lure for all those species is a Rapala Skit­ter Walk. He also uses two Rapala sub­sur­face lures, the X-rap Twitchin’ Mul­let and X-rap Twitchin’ Min­now, which he likes be­cause they each have two sin­gle hooks in­stead of a pair of tre­ble hooks.

“I catch fin­ger mul­let if the cus­tomer wants live bait, and fish sea­walls for snook and jacks,” Austin says. “If the bite’s slow, I like ar­ti­fi­cials be­cause we’re al­ways do­ing some­thing. We’re al­ways mov­ing, we’re al­ways cast­ing.”

When fishing man­grove shore­lines, docks and other ar­eas with ob­struc­tions, where the fish have to be pulled out and away from the struc­ture, Austin arms his cus­tomers with spin­ning tackle up to the task, 20-pound class, with beefier lead­ers to move the fish and avoid cut­offs. In more open, shal­lower wa­ter, where the fish are free to run, he opts for lighter tackle, in the 10-pound class, for in­creased cast­ing dis­tance.

“I like the lighter setup be­cause you can cast far­ther,” Austin says. “A lot of times you get out there and those schools of mul­let are way out on the flat and the fish are in there with them.”

If the weather is nice and seas are calm, Austin ven­tures out of Se­bas­tian In­let and sight-fish the beaches with lures or live mul­let for black­tip sharks, which are mi­grat­ing with the mul­let.

Most of the time, he’s in the river, where high­lights this time of year in­clude gator trout — seatrout weigh­ing 5 or more pounds — that are gorg­ing them­selves on mul­let. And you never know when you might catch the fish of a life­time like the woman from Min­nesota who caught a 43-inch snook fishing with Austin around a spoil is­land.

BAN­NER DAYS

“Some of the most ex­cit­ing kite-fishing I’ve ever had has been dur­ing the spring mul­let run,” says Capt. Bouncer Smith of Mi­ami Beach. “We once had 23 shots at sail­fish on a half-day trip fishing with live mul­let that we’d caught in­side Haulover In­let. In the spring­time, if you have sil­ver mul­let, some­thing’s go­ing to eat them.”

Smith, who fishes out of Mi­ami Beach Ma­rina, says in­shore an­glers can catch big

bar­racuda, tar­pon, snook and jacks in Bis­cayne Bay dur­ing the spring mul­let run, which is typ­i­cally best from April 1 to the mid­dle of May.

“My fa­vorite repli­ca­tion of a mul­let was al­ways the Zara Spook,” Smith says. “A large walk-the-dog plug is re­ally, re­ally deadly for mim­ick­ing mul­let be­ing chased.”

Smith says he prefers to cast-net mul­let with a 10- to 12-foot net with 1- to 1¼-inch mesh and take them off­shore. A big net is needed be­cause the mul­let schools are typ­i­cally spread out in the spring.

He usu­ally finds the bait­fish by Key Bis­cayne’s Cran­don Park Ma­rina and Hurricane Hole, and on the flats by Haulover Park in North Mi­ami Beach.

“Even to­day, mul­let are still one of the over­looked but prime kite baits,” Smith says. “King­fish, sail­fish, dol­phin, black­fin tuna, co­bia, grouper — every­thing jumps all over a live mul­let. And there’s noth­ing more ex­cit­ing than a slow-trolled mul­let for tar­pon.”

Smith says that if you’re not kite-fishing along a color change with live mul­let, then trolling is the best way to fish them, al­though if the cur­rent is rip­ping, you can fish mul­let from an an­chored boat. If you drift with live mul­let, the bait­fish will in­vari­ably swim to­ward the boat, the line trail­ing be­hind them.

When he fishes for tar­pon, Smith bri­dles mul­let to an 8/0 VMC cir­cle hook, puts them out at dif­fer­ent dis­tances, and trolls them at about a mile an hour in Bis­cayne Bay, Gov­ern­ment Cut and just out­side the in­let. At times, Smith has had up to a dozen tar­pon chas­ing those baits be­hind his boat

SPAN TIME

In the Florida Keys, the spring mul­let run co­in­cides with tar­pon sea­son, which has many fishing guides run­ning two and three trips a day us­ing sil­ver mul­let for bait.

“We fish them live around the bridges for tar­pon,” says Capt. Rick Stanczyk, who fishes out of Bud N’ Mary’s Ma­rina in Is­lam­orada. “They’re def­i­nitely tuned into the mul­let. Usu­ally, it starts in March and goes into April and some­times into May.”

Keys tar­pon guides like Stanczyk catch their own mul­let or buy them from com­mer­cial bait fish­er­men.

“Hav­ing live mul­let that are as fresh and lively as pos­si­ble helps,” says Stanczyk, who uses 60-pound spin­ning out­fits to both han­dle the over­sized live baits and gain and main­tain con­trol of the tar­pon in the strong cur­rents that run though the bridge spans.

“That 60-pound mono just gives it a lit­tle ex­tra bit of stretch, so they don’t throw the hook as of­ten when they jump. With the braid, you have enough line that you’re not go­ing to get spooled, and it’s pretty abra­sion-re­sis­tant, es­pe­cially around bridge pil­ings.”

While fishing for tar­pon around bridges, Stanczyk some­times catches jacks, bar­racuda, sharks and even snook. When he fishes well back in Florida Bay, snook, red­fish and trout will eat live mul­let in­tended for tar­pon. Not sur­pris­ingly, his cus­tomers are not dis­ap­pointed by those catches.

TACKLE UP

In the Florida Keys, Stanczyk fishes live mul­let for tar­pon on spin­ning rods spooled with 50-pound braided line and 10 to 15 feet of 60-pound mono at­tached to 7 or 8 feet of 80- to 100-pound leader. On calm days, he uses mono or flu­oro lead­ers as light as 50-pound and hooks the mul­let through the nose on a 6/0 or 7/0 hook.

In the In­dian River, around Se­bas­tian, Austin fishes top­wa­ter lures and jerk­baits on 7-foot spin­ning rods. If he’s fishing in the open, his out­fits carry 10-pound braided line with a 20-pound mono leader to fa­cil­i­tate longer casts. Around man­grove shore­lines and docks, he uses 15- or 20-pound braid with a 30-pound leader. When he fishes live fin­ger mul­let, he puts them on a 4/0 J hook or a 5/0 cir­cle hook.

SAFETY IN NUM­BERS: A school of mul­let winds its way across the shal­lows.

NOWHERE TO HIDE: An ag­gres­sive school of jack crevalle homes in on a mul­let, left. KEYED IN: Mul­let re­main the fa­vored bait for tar­pon un­der Florida Keys bridges.

BA­SIC RIG: Tar­pon find a nose-hooked live mul­let ir­re­sistible, be­low. FOL­LOW­ERS: Snook make a habit of keep­ing tabs on mul­let schools.

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